Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved listening to stories. Her favourite were the stories about other little girls – just like her. She would listen to the tales of their adventures and later emulate them in her play. She loved to do everything the way the characters in her books did.
All children love stories and they need someone to look up to: someone to admire and someone to imitate. I’ve got two young daughters Alhumdulillah, and I can tell how the stories that are either read to them or discovered by them influence their imagination. It’s always the female characters that they are most interested in; after all every little girl wants to be a princess.
I got the feeling that maybe these are not the best stories to put in their little heads. After all, the princesses in the classic fairy tales don’t have that much to their merit. Even their goals are also not as ambitious as I would like for my children.
I used to tell my daughters the stories I was told when I was little: all the fairy tales about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and so on. Then I got the feeling that maybe these are not the best stories to put in their little heads. After all, the princesses in the classic fairy tales don’t have that much to their merit. Even their goals are also not as ambitious as I would like for my children. Cinderella and other beauties only dream of getting married to a prince and in times of need, they rely upon the magic wand of the fairy godmother. Needless to say, magic is Haram; however, even in the make-believe world of fairy tales, the characters rely upon it; some events are beyond their control while others happen by pure luck. It gives children a lesson only in wishful thinking and an escapist approach. All the little girls want to be princesses and I don’t think that aspiring to be a ‘princess’ is necessarily a bad thing. I just don’t want them to be the Sleeping Beauty kind of princess.
The history of Islam is full of great stories. There were a number Muslimahs who were pious, courageous, and ambitious. They achieved success in this world as well as in the eternal life. First of all, there are the Greatest Four: the four women mentioned by the Prophet (sa), as those who have achieved the highest ranks in Jannat Al-Firdaus:
- Asiya, the wife of the Pharaoh
- Maryam, the mother of Isa (as)
- Khadijah (rta), the first wife of the Prophet (sa)
- Fatimah (rta), his daughter
Each of these women led a different lifestyle and each had been tried by Allah (swt). Each proved her individual strength.
||Asiya and Khadijah (rta) were rich, while Maryam and Fatimah (rta) lived in poor conditions
||Asiya had been tortured upon the orders of her husband, while Khadijah (rta) and Fatimah (rta) were happily married; Maryam was a single mother.
||Khadijah (rta) was a businesswoman, while Fatimah (rta) was a housewife
Each of them was different, but together they tell a story of all women and demonstrate a perfect example as to what it takes to be a great woman and a great Muslimah. And these are the characters that I would like my daughters to hear about and learn from. These are the best role models for young Muslimahs: the Princesses of the Akhirah.
Of course, there are many other great Muslimahs whose stories are worth telling: some of my favourite are Khawla bint Al-Azwar, a courageous warrior who rescued her brother from the enemy’s hands, and the Queen of Saba. As mentioned in the Quran, she was the one who recognized the truth of Islam and converted her nation. I would love to read such stories to my children, but sadly there is not much written about them in a format that would be suitable for young children.
Alhumdulillah, there is a wonderful variety of Islamic literature available in the bookstores nowadays, but most of them tell the stories of the Prophets. There is no doubt that these are very valuable stories, but I think it’s important for young girls to learn about female characters, so they can have someone to look up to and some good examples to emulate.
there are many other great Muslimahs whose stories are worth telling: some of my favourite are Khawla bint Al-Azwar, a courageous warrior who rescued her brother from the enemy’s hands, and the Queen of Saba.
Since there is this gap in the market, I have started reading adult literature on the Sahabiyat. I try to retell these stories to my kids in a language they would understand. And after a more thorough search, I have discovered some children’s literature, in which the main characters are young Muslimahs who have their problems and their adventures; they always come up with a solution that is in compliance with the guidance of Islam and teaches a valuable lesson to young readers. Seeing how powerfully stories influence children’s dreams, I am now much more considerate when choosing books for my daughters.
Of course, the role models for our children are not only the literary characters. It is the adults around them who affect them the most, teaching them by giving an example of everyday life. I know my daughters will learn from their aunties, grandmothers, elder cousins and friends. But first of all, they will learn from me. That’s why I should try to be the best example for them. It’s a huge responsibility, but also a great honour. I pray to Allah (swt) that He would make me the best I can become, so that my daughters would learn good ways from me, Insha’Allah.